Foyer : Shilpi Kapoor, BarrierBreak Technologies

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Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Shilpi Kapoor, who heads BarrierBreak Technologies, a subsidiary of Net Systems Informatics (India) Pvt Ltd, spoke about the space occupied by assistive technology in the ICT segment and its role.

BarrierBreak Technologies works in the area of assistive technology by providing accessibility training, testing and consulting services. It also specialises in Section 508 standards and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0.  

A recipient of the Shell Helen Keller Award 2008, Shilpi has been working for the last 15 years in the area of transforming lives of the differently-abled through her innovative ideas and initiatives.

What is the current scenario on the sensitivity quotient in the IT sector for persons with disabilities?

Assistive technology occupies a very small space in the wide world of Information and Communication Technology. A perspective on the needs of PwDs is non-existent in India today. For example, can a visually impaired person use the keyboard? You will find a lot of Ngos working towards generating awareness and sensitisation, but the corporate sensitivity to the differently-abled does not exist. People are generally unaware of the myriad technological options available in the international market for PwDs. So a lot needs to be done in this sector. There is a needs to analyse the government policies and programmes to bring PwDs into mainstream employment.

Education as an agenda is actually an area that needs to be re-thought with focus on PwDs by the government, private and public sector and the Ngos

What is the current market for assistive technology in India?

Assistive technology is merely any technology that aids you to perform an activity competently. For a person who has difficulty using hands to operate the keyboard or mouse, a foot-mouse can be an assistive technology. The international market is wide with the presence of multiple technology vendors showcasing various products for different kinds of disabilities.

In India, the landscape is non-existent. I don’t think we are indigenously marketing a single assistive technology product here. The Indian platform is full of international products. There is a huge R&D gap and this is accentuated by the absence of sensitivity and awareness amongst the IT companies to acknowledge PwDs as a segment of population that would be using their products. For example, in the interntional market, mobile phones for the elderly come with large screen, keys and text. But in India we do find such models being sold. I would say the gap has just started narrowing with some companies coming up with such R&D initiatives.

The common concern that emerged from the Techshare sessions was the need to focus on employability of PwDs, with the IT sector emerging as a key factor. What are your views on this?

Education of PwDs needs a holistic approach and we cannot tackle employability problems and skills in isolation of the overall education experience. The training needs to be more vigorous and job-oriented, at the same time educationists need to also provide tools of  assistive technology so that the child, from a young age, is accustomed to using these and becomes skilled. You cannot expect the corporate to necessarily sit and train each and every PwD. So, as disability organisations, we need to worry about whether we are giving them right education, that too from the basic level. Mere training in MS Office will not guarantee PwDs with employment. Education as an agenda is actually an area that needs to be re-thought with focus on PwDs by the government, private and public sector and the Ngos. We need to look at how the training programmes of PwDs are conducted and how we can improve the skills for higher employability.

Today, we are not integrating assistive technology into the curriculum. Most of the assistive technologies are taught to children at separate institutes. We need to train the teachers for this. We also need to train counsellors and rehabilitation specialists on providing guidance to PwDs on gaining employment. Also, awareness needs to be built on various government schemes. Measures should also be taken to increase collaboration between the government and private sector. 

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